My Daughter, the Engineer

December 13, 2013

“When I expanded my college definition of engineering to include ‘creating,’ ‘designing,’ or ‘building,’ and especially when I included arts and craft materials in my definition of engineering, I realized my daughter has been doing engineering since at least three years old.”

Verónica Urdaneta

Berkeley, CA, December 13, 2013: A report by the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee last year said women account for just 14 percent of U.S. engineers. Mindy Ranney is a California mother who hopes to give her young daughter, Star, opportunities that will nurture her natural curiosity and help her beat those odds. Mindy graduated with a bachelor of science degree in industrial engineering and is the sole founder of ConnectSix, Inc., a $3 million annual revenue Bay Area web application consulting company. She is one of the women in that 14 percent.

Star visited the Lawrence Hall of Science a couple of days ago with her mother. She was particularly interested in the Design Quest exhibit. “This exhibit was created by experts at the Hall to give children the opportunity to engage in an engineering design process that is very similar to the one used by real engineers,” says Gretchen Walker, Public Science Center Director at the Hall. “Visitors come up with ideas, build prototypes, and test their own designs in a wide selection of activities.” The activities range from automata, stop-motion stories, building machines that fly and testing them on a wind tube, and combining wheels and treads to optimize a vehicle for climbing or for speed.

“My daughter loves to build things that have a human component, such as houses for miniature animals or dolls,” says Star’s mother, while Star explores the mechanism that makes a merry-go-round “automata” rotate. One of the pieces of the merry-go-round falls off as she tests the design. “How do I fix it?” she asks. At Design Quest, there is no right or wrong; children can make amazing designs in that area, since the goal is actually to facilitate exploration. So Star immediately begins working on fixing the automata while her friend comes and helps her.

Reyna Hamilton, Director of the Hall’s Inventor’s Lab, dedicates her efforts to encourage underserved kids to explore science and technology. “We give the kids the basic materials and brief instructions and let them go,” she notes. “It’s really amazing to me to observe, when they’re given the right encouragement and environment, what they can create using their problem-solving skills. Engineering and science can easily be made accessible to children.”

Soledad Antelada (pictured at left), a computer systems engineer in cybersecurity at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, is another believer in the need to have more women become role models for younger generations. She recognizes the challenges she herself had when growing up. Antelada got little support for her interest in engineering, even from her teachers. So today she strives to inspire girls to pursue careers in science and engineering, and also to become inventors and innovators. “Engineering, for me, is using our knowledge and our capacity to observe and analyze, along with our imagination, to resolve challenges,” she says. She leads a group of teen girls in the Technovation Challenge, where they build phone apps and do other activities that embrace science. “Engineering is a very creative job, even if it does not always seem like it. It’s really a lot of fun!”

Ideas such as GoldieBlox, created by a start-up toy company that sells games and books to encourage girls to become engineers, have become very popular. Yet they are not the only way that girls can experience fun and creativity when using engineering. The Lawrence Hall of Science provides a space for everyone in the family to step right into the shoes of a scientist or engineer. “The Hall’s exhibits have a great deal of appeal to girls because of their playful and creative nature,” Reyna Hamilton adds. “Girls can explore basic engineering concepts in a nonthreatening and exciting way, allowing for endless creativity and problem-solving,” she observes.

”Star could be a scientist, maybe an engineer,” said Mindy before she and Star left the Hall. “In fact, she is a scientist. In this very moment, and in many of her day-to-day moments. Perhaps she’s not paying attention to me (and obeying me!) because she is in her own world, thinking about how things work. Actually, I’m sure that’s what she’s doing. And isn’t that exactly what scientists do?”

During the winter holidays, families can come to the Hall and engineer their own holiday magic. Children have created all kinds of holiday projects using automata. Holiday trees and merry-go-rounds made of cardboard paper and pipe cleaners stand among many other projects that these young engineers have come up with. Another way to experience engineering is by visiting the Ingenuity Lab at the Hall and getting creative with the Marble Machines. The Ingenuity Lab will be open every day during Winter Weeks, Dec. 21–Jan. 5.

The Lawrence Hall of Science welcomes visitors from Dec. 21 through Jan. 5, during the holidays. It will be open from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and will be closed at 3:00 p.m. on Dec. 24 and all day on Dec. 25. The Hall offers a wide variety of experiences for families to enjoy during winter break.

Winter Programs and Schedule

Winter Camp
Make this winter holiday extra special for your entire family, at Winter Camp at the Hall. Mix up concoctions, create your own gadgets, explore space, and even meet live animals. Winter Camp is for kids age 4½–11, with activities adapted for each age group.
Week 1: Dec. 23, 26 & 27; 
Week 2: Dec. 30, Jan. 2 & 3
9:00 a.m.–1:00 p.m., including lunchtime
Cost: $180/$155 Members
Extended day care is available from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m.
Cost: $75 per week

Meet the Makers—Origami Robots
Come play with Dash, the superfast six-legged robot made from cardboard, plastic, and glue! Use a unique origami process to make your own with Featured Maker Nick Kohut. Kohut received his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from UC Berkeley and now runs Dash Robotics, Inc.
Saturday, Dec. 14
12:30–3:30 p.m.
Free with admission

New Year’s Eve Day Party
Count down to the new year in different time zones displayed on Science On a Sphere.® In celebration with the world community, enjoy sparkling cider toasts, noisemakers, and a balloon drop. No advance planning is required for this event—simply show up!
Tuesday, Dec. 31
12:00–2:00 p.m.
Free with admission

Winter Weeks
Enjoy quality time with your family and keep the learning gears turning over winter break. Our exhibits, hands-on labs, 3-D Theater, and Planetarium are all open for extra holiday hours during Winter Weeks.

  • Make Marble Machines or Jitterbugs in the Ingenuity Lab, 12:00–4:00 p.m.
  • Go Back To The Moon For Good in the Planetarium, 1:30 and 2:30 p.m.
  • Greet fascinating animals in the Animal Discovery Room, 1:30–4:00 p.m.
  • Come to the Hall on Christmas Eve to enjoy a free 3-D film before 2:00 p.m.

About Lawrence Hall of Science
The Lawrence Hall of Science at the University of California, Berkeley, investigates, creates, and evaluates educational materials and methods, professional development programs, and hands-on learning experiences for science centers, schools, community organizations, and homes. Every year programs from the Hall serve millions of students, over 165,000 visitors, and more than 20,000 teachers nationally and internationally. The Hall is committed to providing every person access to high-quality, effective science and mathematics learning opportunities to enrich lives, inform communities, and advance society.

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